The Northern Ireland Stalemate

You may recall, almost a year ago, we published a piece entitled “We Need To Be Honest About The Irish Border“. In it we argued that the deliberate ambiguity over everything Brexit was leaving Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a stalemate that could not be resolved until people were honest about their intentions for issues like the Irish border.

“This is not something that can be trivialised. This is not something we can dismiss and sort out at the last minute. This is not something that you can lie about and hope no one will notice. This is a fiery, divisive, potentially violence inviting problem that the UK government (and all other parties involved in the Brexit negotiations) need to be truly honest about.”

Now it seems we have at least some of that clarity on the future relationship. In a stunning move, the ERG has forced Theresa May’s hand and passed an amendment that utterly contradicts the backstop agreement put in place late last year. They have enshrined the indivisible nature of the UK, with their amendment that states that there can be no customs border in the Irish sea. Therefore we are either a part of the Single Market or a Customs Union, or we will have some form of hard border in Ireland. It really is that simple. No waffle about technological solutions change that fact – some form of infrastructure will have to be put in place.

The utter disregard for the Northern Irish peace process is quite stunning. The collapse of Stormont over 500 days ago, means there is no respect for the self-determination of the people in Northern Ireland. We are represented solely by the DUP, who after two decades seems more determined than ever to dismantle the peace agreement that took 30 years and thousands of lives to construct. It feels like Northern Ireland will never return to self-governance and the longer this reality continues, the more those at Westminster will be happy to legislate for us. Northern Ireland will be ruled from a house with 10 MPs representing the most hardline Unionist, hyper-religious, pro-Brexit party, led by a woman who is currently under investigation for running a scheme that cost the taxpayer millions and enriched numerous businessmen with ties to the DUP.

The celebrations over the 12th in Northern Ireland showed the bubbling tension beneath the surface – there were cars set on fire, petrol bombs thrown at police, and a bomb scare at the city airport. The situation is bleak. But nothing is going to change. Northern Ireland seems almost incapable of moving politics beyond our constitutional question. We’d rather vote for two parties who have refused to come together and form a government for what will soon be two long years. Yet election time will roll around again and they will be reelected. They suffer no electoral consequences, are never held to account, and will continue to ignore the screeching needs of the country they call home. Northern Ireland is on track for a return to a hard border, direct rule, and a normalised violence that most thought and hoped we had moved beyond.

*This is an opinion piece*

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